Two music companies cancelled appearances by the opera legend Placido Domingo over multiple sexual harassment allegations
Eight singers and a dancer said they were sexually harassed by the long-married, Spanish-born superstar in encounters that took place over three decades beginning in the late 1980s.
Some of the women told the AP that Domingo used his power at the LA company and elsewhere to try to pressure them into sexual relationships, with several saying that he dangled jobs and then sometimes punished them professionally if they refused his advances.
The LA Opera said it would hire outside counsel to investigate the "concerning allegations" against Domingo.
In canceling its invitation for Domingo to sing at its Sept. 18 opening gala, the Philadelphia Orchestra issued a statement saying: "We are committed to providing a safe, supportive, respectful, and appropriate environment for the orchestra and staff, for collaborating artists and composers, and for our audiences and communities."
The Met held a black-tie dinner in April for Domingo, where seats started at $2,500. He is scheduled to play the lead of "Macbeth" in three Met shows in September and October.
"I have known Placido Domingo for more than 25 years," Rabl-Stadler said in a statement. "In addition to his artistic competence, I was impressed from the very beginning by his appreciative treatment of all festival employees."
"The Kennedy Center did not receive any documented complaints about Mr. Domingo's behaviour prior to WNO's affiliation with the Kennedy Center, and we have not received any since then," the statement said, adding that the company has "zero tolerance policies with regard to harassment, discrimination or abuse of any kind, and we take allegations of this nature very seriously."
The multiple Grammy winner is an immensely respected figure in his rarefied world, described by colleagues as a man of prodigious charm and energy who works tirelessly to promote his art form.
"A business lunch is not strange," said one of the singers. "Somebody trying to hold your hand during a business lunch is strange — or putting their hand on your knee is a little strange. He was always touching you in some way, and always kissing you."
Domingo did not respond to detailed questions from the AP about specific incidents, but issued a statement saying: "The allegations from these unnamed individuals dating back as many as thirty years are deeply troubling, and as presented, inaccurate.
Seven of the nine accusers told the AP they feel their careers were adversely impacted after rejecting Domingo's advances, with some saying that roles he promised never materialised and several noting that while they went on to work with other companies, they were never hired to work with him again.
Only one of the nine women would allow her name to be used — Patricia Wulf, a mezzo-soprano who sang with Domingo at the Washington Opera. The others requested anonymity, saying they either still work in the business and feared reprisals or worried they might be publicly humiliated and even harassed.
The AP has withheld certain details in cases where it could lead to the identification of the accuser.
One of them said she had sex with him twice, including at the Biltmore hotel in Los Angeles. When Domingo left for a performance, the woman said, he put $10 on the dresser, saying, "I don't want you to feel like a prostitute, but I also don't want you to have to pay to park."
Several said they took extreme measures to avoid Domingo, including no longer using the ladies' room near his office, asking other singers or backstage staff to stick with them while at work, and not answering their phones at home.
Domingo's influence in the opera world is so great that Wulf was the only person among the dozens who talked to the AP who spoke on the record. And many of those who spoke did so reluctantly, fearing retribution but also not wanting to inflict collateral damage on the industry itself.
She echoed advice that several women said they had received: "Avoid interaction with him at all costs. And definitely, don't be alone with him."
During a rehearsal of "Tales of Hoffman," she was selected to kiss Domingo in an orgy scene. She said she remembers wiping his saliva off her face from a sloppy, wet kiss after which he whispered in her ear, "I wish we weren't on stage."
"He would say things like, 'Come to my apartment. Let's sing through some arias. I'll give you coaching. I'd like to hear what you can do for casting.'"
One night, she said, she agreed to meet Domingo about 11 pm "and then I had a full-blown panic attack. I freaked out, and I just kept not answering the phone. He just filled up the machine, calling me until 3:30 in the morning."
One backstage staff member said many felt Domingo was pursuing the mezzo-soprano "in some way that she was not wanting. We were all aware of that."
In 1991, she said, "I finally gave in and slept with him. I ran out of excuses. It was like, 'OK, I guess this is what I have to do.'"
"I will sing better — and it will all be because of you," she said he told her before he deposited $10 on the hotel dresser for the parking fee.
"He would say, 'I'm going to talk to you as the future artistic director of the company'" and discuss possible roles for her, she said.
From the beginning, the singer — who was 27 and just starting her career — said she felt panicked and trapped.
After one performance, the singer said she went home and answered the phone, her heart sinking when she heard Domingo's voice.
"We were sitting on the couch and at some point, he started kissing me," she said. She said he then led her to a bedroom where he took her clothes off, then undressed himself. They engaged in "heavy petting" and "groping," she said.
"I was not prepared for how much it would mess with my confidence, and my feeling shame about it and wondering who knew and if they thought that's why I got an opportunity or a role," she said. "I started to doubt my own talent and skills."
When she confessed to what had happened with Domingo, the husband said her description of the star's behaviour persuaded him "that the only way to get out of it was to either give in — or give him a hard no and give up all concerns of your career."
The singer said that once Domingo took over control of casting decisions at the LA Opera, he never hired her again.
At first, she said, she nervously laughed off Domingo's remarks, even though she considered them offensive. But when he persisted, she made her position clear.
Then 40, she had been hired to do two solo roles that year, first in a production of "The Magic Flute" and later in "Fedora," which starred Domingo and the great Italian soprano Mirella Freni. The opportunity to work with such famous singers was a career high point, she said, but the experience quickly became a nightmare.
"But," she added, "you also think as soon as you walk away and get away, you think, 'Did I just ruin my career?' And that went on through that entire production."
She said Domingo would often knock on her dressing room door uninvited and that she feared to leave the room if he was in the hallway.
Lew told the AP that he would ask his wife after each performance, "Did it happen again? Did he say the same thing?" He added that "at a certain point, we didn't have to ask. You could just tell by how upset she was."
Wulf said that Domingo did not physically touch her but that there was no mistaking his intentions.
Wulf said she is speaking out because the silence about what she called the "well-known secret" of Domingo's behaviour has stretched on too long. "I'm stepping forward because I hope that it can help other women come forward, or be strong enough to say no," she said.
Another singer who worked in Los Angeles in the mid-2000s told the AP that she already knew of Domingo's reputation when he took an extreme interest in her career. She made sure she always had an excuse for leaving right after work.
"The whole premise was ridiculous: Why would Placido Domingo not have a ride home?" she said. "But what was I going to do?"
Several weeks later, she said, Domingo approached her on a night that he knew she was scheduled to stay late.
"It sounds crazy to say, but it felt like he had invested so much time in this pursuit that he was annoyed with me," she said. "I felt like I have dragged this out and avoided him for six weeks and he is Placido and he is my boss and he is offering to work with me on this role."
But then, she said, "When it was over, he stood up and slid his hand down my skirt, and that was when I had to get out of there."
"I went home and was terrified to go back to work," she said. "I was frozen in terror for that whole contract."
Domingo would ask her to meet him, including in his hotel room, but she said she would only go to lunch with him, always framed as a business meal.
"When you're working for the most powerful man in the opera, you try to play ball," she said, adding that she was careful to never insult him and tried to appeal to his ego.
She pushed him away, she said and insisted she had to get to rehearsal.
An opera employee who worked closely with Domingo said she found him gentlemanly and respectful but confirmed that the dancer had complained of being harassed by the superstar for years. She said the dancer told her what happened in Domingo's hotel room, adding that her impression was that "even though he was persistent, he did take no for an answer."
Perhaps for that reason, she said she feels conflicted about how to categorise Domingo's behaviour.
Domingo's pursuits extended beyond the concert hall, according to one singer who said she encountered him in Italy during a backpacking trip.
"He said you have a beautiful voice and he wants to meet you," she said the doorman told her.
"The whole thing felt like something out of a movie," she said.
Back in New York, she went to one of Domingo's performances, then went backstage, where he remembered her and asked for her phone number, she said.
"In Italy and at the Met, the hook was, 'I want to hear you sing. I can connect you with people.' Once he started calling, it was just, 'I want to see you. I want to meet you,'" she said.
"His aggressiveness was too much to think he didn't have an ulterior motive," she said.
She remembers feeling elated when he praised her singing, taking her face in his hands after one performance and telling her, "You have moved me. Your performance moved me." He was artistic director at both the Washington and LA operas and told her, "I'm going to find work for you... I do many concerts. And I ask my favourite singers to join me."
"That's all I said. But for me, it was the death of the hero. That was the death of my dream," she said. Going forward, she said she gave him only her cheek to kiss and no longer looked him in the eye.
"He's got a soul when he sings, and that soul is there in the midst of this abuse of power," she said.Read more: TRT World
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